WETMORE, GEORGE LUDLOW, lawyer and office holder; b. 26 Dec. 1795 in Gagetown, N.B., eldest son of Thomas Wetmore and Sarah Peters; m. 26 Dec. 1816 Harriet Rainsford, and they had four children, including Andrew Rainsford Wetmore*; d. 2 Oct. 1821 on Maryland Hill (Fredericton), N.B.
As the eldest son of the attorney general of New Brunswick, George Ludlow Wetmore had a promising future. He studied law with his father, was admitted to the Supreme Court as an attorney, and on 18 June 1816 was appointed clerk of the House of Assembly. After becoming a barrister on 2 March 1819, he entered into a partnership with his father in Fredericton. Their major competitors at the bar were Samuel Denny Street and his son George Frederick Street*. Samuel Denny Street had long resented his exclusion from the inner circle of American-born loyalists who monopolized government patronage and in 1800 had fought a duel with John Murray Bliss, whose son, George Pidgeon Bliss, was to marry George Ludlow Wetmore’s sister Sarah in 1819. The animosity between Street and the loyalist élite was passed on to the second generation. During the trial of the sheriff of York County for false arrest in 1821, George Frederick Street, who was counsel for the sheriff, and George Ludlow Wetmore, who was acting for the plaintiff, nearly came to blows outside the courtroom and Wetmore challenged Street to a duel.
In great secrecy, since duelling was illegal, the two men met early in the morning on 2 Oct. 1821 at Maryland Hill, four miles outside Fredericton. They exchanged a round of shots. According to his considerably less than impartial account, Street deliberately fired at the ground and was prepared for a reconciliation, but Wetmore insisted on another exchange. Street’s second bullet hit Wetmore above the wrist, passed through his elbow, and struck him in the head. Doctors were summoned but by the time they arrived Wetmore was dead. He was not quite 26 and he left behind a pregnant wife and three children. The fourth child of the marriage was a daughter who would be named George. Wetmore’s wife lived to be 94 but never spoke to a Street again.
Among the first generation of loyalists, many of whom had seen active service during the American revolution, duels had been common, particularly among members of the legal fraternity who were concerned to establish their status as gentlemen. But during the early 19th century duelling became less acceptable to public opinion. When Richard John Uniacke Jr killed William Bowie in a duel in 1819, there was a public outcry both in Nova Scotia and in neighbouring New Brunswick. Street and the two seconds, Richard Davies and John Francis Wentworth Winslow, both of whom had a military background, were sufficiently frightened by what they had done to flee to Maine and during their absence the coroner, William Taylor, raised the “Hue and Cry” and the sheriff issued a warrant for their arrest for murder. In February 1822 they returned to stand trial. Trials for murder arising from duelling were rare in British North America, although more common in Britain, and no one had ever been convicted unless foul play was involved (Uniacke, for example, had been acquitted). Street’s trial was a farce. A string of witnesses drawn from the loyalist élite testified to his “humane” character; the seconds refused to admit that they had seen Street kill Wetmore; the counsels for the defence, Ward Chipman* Jr and Henry Bliss*, attacked the circumstantial evidence produced by William Botsford*, the prosecutor, and attempted to cast doubts upon Street’s very presence at the event; and the presiding judge, John Saunders, directed the jury to acquit Street, which it did. As in similar cases elsewhere, one has the impression that the witnesses, the judges, and the prosecuting officers were united in a conspiracy to prevent the law against duelling from being enforced. These were, of course, the same men who enforced the criminal law with such vigour against those who were not members of the gentry.
In later years Street expressed his remorse about Wetmore but in 1834 to defend his honour he challenged Henry George Clopper* to a duel, a challenge that Clopper dismissed with scorn. Clearly a change in attitude to duelling had taken place even among the colonial élite and by contributing to that change Wetmore’s death may not have been entirely in vain.
PANB, MC 1, Wetmore file, “Thomas Wetmore . . . from England to America, 1635”; MC 300, RS160, L4a, no.77. UNBL, MG H11, legal papers, 21 Feb.. New-Brunswick Royal Gazette, 2 June 1816; 7 April, 10 Aug. 1818; 2 March 1819; 2, 9 Oct. 1821. Lawrence, Judges of N.B. (Stockton and Raymond). Lorenzo Sabine, Notes on duels and duelling . . . (Boston, 1855). Mary Barker, “The duel, “Atlantic Advocate (Fredericton), 49 (1958–59), no. 3: 49–55.